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Many in Forsyth could lose food stamps due to improved economy

FORSYTH COUNTY — Forsyth County’s unemployment rate of 3.9 percent means some local residents may no longer be eligible for food stamps.

Over the course of 2016, Georgia and 22 other states are set to re-impose a three-month time limit on receiving federal food stamp benefits for unemployed adults ages 18-49 who are not disabled and raising minor children.

Nationwide, this could affect between 500,000 and 1 million of the country’s poorest people.

According to Joni Smith, executive director of The Place of Forsyth County, about 80 people come into the emergency assistance nonprofit for food services each week.

“The majority of our food clients are either families or greater than 50 years old,” Smith said. “But we do have a pocket of individuals who come in.”

Of those people who are 18-49 years old, “at least 70 percent” have food stamps. There are also “a lot of people who don’t meet the threshold” for food stamps by “just slightly.”

That may not be a majority of the more than 7,500 Forsyth County households that received food stamps in 2013, according to census figures.

However, the people likely to be cut off by the three-month time limit have an average monthly income of about 17 percent of the poverty line. Furthermore, they usually do not qualify for any other income support, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“There are a lot of jobs available, but that doesn’t mean you can afford” to take care of yourself or a family,” Smith said. “We have people who are working multiple jobs and not even getting by. We don’t have a plethora of excess housing that’s affordable.”

The rule of thumb, as Smith and other nonprofit assistance programs have reported, is to spend 30 percent of your income on housing.

“So if you find somewhere for $700, that’s way more than Georgia’s minimum wage.”

Georgia is one of two states whose minimum wage — $5.15 — is lower than the federal rate of $7.25, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Employees covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act are subject to the federal wage.

According to U.S. Census data, the median gross rent in Forsyth County from 2010-14 was $1,157. The national rate was $920.

Food stamp assistance averages between $150 and $170 per person per month, according to the CBPP report.

A 1996 welfare law allows states to suspend the three-month limit “in areas with high and sustained unemployment,” which was the case through the recession.

Now that employment rates have increased — Georgia’s is 5.2 percent — many states no longer qualify for that waiver.

About 1.8 million Georgians, about 111,000 of whom are considered able-bodied, receive food stamps.

The nationwide demographic of those set to be affected by this change show more than 40 percent being women and nearly one-third being older than 40.

About half are white, one-third are African American and one-tenth are Hispanic.

They live all over the country, with close to 40 percent in urban areas, 40 percent in suburban areas and 20 percent in rural areas, according to the CBPP.

One effect Smith said she expects as a result is that more people will need assistance from organizations like The Place.

“I’m glad we have our work force program,” she said. “It will add a lot more people that have depended on food stamps or government assistance. Our work force department will get busier.”